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Antonio Aretxabala Díez,, Geologist. Professor of the School of Architecture of the University of Navarra.

Lorca, two eternal years

It is hard to erase those images of collapsing steeples and buildings, people running without knowing where to go, ambulances and destruction. The premonitory earthquake of 4.5 Degrees two hours earlier was the notice core topic for a smaller issue of victims.

Tue, 14 May 2013 16:43:00 +0000 Published in and digital newspapers of group Vocento


Lorca, a contemporary city, woke us up that day two years ago today with the most mediatic earthquake in Europe of all times, it is difficult to erase those insistent images of bell towers and buildings collapsing, people running without knowing where to go, ambulances and destruction. The previous notice of the premonitory earthquake of 4.5 two hours earlier filled the streets with cameras and frightened citizens, some were in the middle of an interview when hell broke loose in the form of a wave that was seen coming from the east, its strength was not much, 5.1 Degrees.
Yet it raged through the city and its already frightened citizens. The cameras were ready, everything was recorded: nine victims, hundreds of wounded, a ruined heritage. Santa María de las Huertas, the baroque jewel with its bell tower exploding, San Mateo, its belfry almost crushing several cameras and journalists, the convent of the Poor Clares collapsed, Santiago collapsed, San Francisco destroyed, San Patricio (patron saint of the city) decapitated, the highest density of European baroque, an unparalleled treasure ruined. La Viña and San Fernando irrecoverable. Economic sectors still do not raise their heads, some will not do it for years, others will never make it. The second largest region in Spain paralyzed for months on end.
Why so much damage? Who pays such a high cost? We have not done something right. It is true, Lorca woke us up from our lethargy of decades, reminded us once again that we live on a land that every time it shakes is capable of killing, injuring, ruining rich patrimonies, paralyzing productive sectors in entire regions...
Two years later the reality is very sad, practically everything is still to be done, the Lorca Plan is still unfinished, two legislatures and always evolves to the leave, politicians are once again the great obstacle to resilience. The avenue of the unfulfilled promises in La Viña will never be forgotten, there the gold and the black and white came to the surface on the eve of elections. But the reality that we wanted to build is stubborn and cruel, the empty lots still pass invoice in the form of mortgage, there were whole blocks, but the worst: evictions also exist in Lorca, the aberration of a system that no longer has a name expelled citizens from their ruins, they could not pay them. Two years later and some leaders still have not realized that it was not a problem of aid, but of infrastructures, of lack of resilience.
The whole of Europe has a lot to learn. Chile after its 8.8 earthquake Degrees in 2010 had recovered its economic activity in less than a month. Guatemala came through the 7.4 earthquake in November with flying colors. Mexico did not even suffer casualties in 2012 with two real earthquakes and gave us a great lesson. Europe is different, it has become backward and abulic. L'Aquila still has temporary shelters and four years have passed, Emilia is dismayed, Lorca undefined.
The contemporary European city has entrusted its seismic safety to changing construction standards, architects believe that this is the job of structural engineers, and the latter believe that it is they, through rules and regulations , who will mitigate the damage, urban planners have no voice, the city is a whole, not a set of adjustable parts, however experience teaches us: these standards have not been, are not and will never be enough.
The urban configurations had been neglected, the real scenario of the earthquake is not only the pieces of the system or buildings, it is the city, the open first floors waiting for the hairdresser or the pharmacy that never arrived were lethal, the irregularities in plan and elevation, the loose elements, chimneys, skylights, parapets, overhangs..., killed an illiterate citizenry in seismic behavior that fled in terror.
The reports prepared by the technicians that point to these damages are the same every time an earthquake shakes Europe, and we always report the same details. There is so much to do! The proposal of a pioneering center of European seismic culture that would cover and solve all these aspects at the level of teaching higher, a model for all Europe in Lorca, presented in September by the undersigned even with a theme park, is still waiting in the drawers of the administrations.
Is it not understood where we live? The current rules and regulations has not yet been revised, the commission in charge has not yet met, but a convergence with our northern neighbors is already in sight. France published its modern and complete rules and regulations ten days before those earthquakes, their expectations tripled ours. An exaggeration! said some technicians who today go out of their way to erase those criticisms from the web.

But the infallible reality tripled in Lorca. Urban planning on a three-dimensional ground and not as in the twentieth century on plan can no longer wait, the pedagogy of the population has not even been consolidated, today the same would happen; the loose non-structural elements are not yet contemplated in the many areas prone to tremors, in the south and southeast, in the Pyrenean or island areas, a dynamic knowledge of the terrain on which we build is the core topic of success.
Lorca also woke up other localities with that second earthquake of 5.1 Degrees, as it highlighted the seismic safety of other contemporary Spanish and European cities. Those that have forgotten their past, that have fallen into seismic amnesia are in the same danger or more, especially if they know that they live near one of the many dormant (or not so dormant) faults.

Historians should be recovered to make urban rules and regulations , it has been the great bet of the most technological country on the planet, they are the Japanese trump card after Fukushima and also the Italian after Emilia. Culture saves lives. We have already paid a very high price for having expelled them from the sector, we cannot take any more risks. A community that forgets its past is in danger and may be doomed. Who calculates the risk without data important from the past? and worse, who would pay such a high price?